Julia's Reviews > Running the Rift

Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron
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Jan 10, 12

Read in January, 2012

Jean-Patrick Nkuba is a Tutsi boy growing up in rural Rwanda. He is a bright student and a gifted runner, fast enough to potentially qualify for the Olympics. He was named after an uncle who was killed in a 1973 massacre of the Tutsi people, but such violence between the Hutu and Tutsi peoples now seems long in the past.

The story takes place between 1984 and 1998. Over the years the tension gradually builds between the two groups as the Tutsi people become increasingly harrassed and the media inflames racial divisions. Jean-Patrick's brother joins the RPF, a Tutsi rebel group, but Jean-Patrick heads to university and trains to be an Olympic runner. He befriends an American geology professor and falls in love with a Hutu girl. Sporadically violence against Tutsis erupts, but Jean-Patrick chooses to believe that his high profile running talent (and his well connected coach) will protect him from persecution. Meanwhile we - the reader - have a sense of dread from the outset that grows ever stronger.

This book pulled me in immediately. The sense of place is palpable. You can almost feel, smell and taste Rwanda as you read it. While it is fiction, it feels so real that I found it hard to believe that this wasn't a true story and that Benaron isn't Rwandan (she's not). It takes you inside Jean-Patrick's head and you can understand why he ignores so many warning signs and warnings from friends about the tensions that are building. It's so much easier to stick to the beliefs that you were raised with, even when the evidence against them is so overwhelming. When the genocide comes, some Hutus turn on their friends and lovers, but others will risk and even sacrifice their own lives to save their countrymen.

While this story is set against the build up to the genocide in Rwanda, it's very much the story of an individual rather than the conflict itself. Parts are very difficult to read, but there is a sense of hope as well. It's a very powerful story, engrossing to read and hard to forget.
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